Tuesday talks-Interview with Penny Zeller

I’m excited today to have Penny Zeller here for an interview.
Penny is a multi-published, award-winning author of inspirational books. It’s such a pleasure to have you with us.

Thank you for having me as your guest, Kristena! It’s great to be here.

Tell us a little about yourself and how you were raised.

I am a homeschool mom of two teen daughters and have been married to my husband and best friend for 26 years. I am also a group fitness instructor and a volunteer ministry liaison who connects needs with ministry resources. My passion is to assist and nurture women and children into a closer relationship with Christ.

I was raised, along with my sister and brother, by two wonderful parents in a little farming town with several aunts, uncles, and cousins nearby. My grandparents lived down the road. Family get-togethers were a blast with all of us, and I still remember the table Nanie (my grandma) had in her little kitchen that stretched from one end to the other to accommodate us all for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners.

While I grew up in a moral home, it was not a Christian home. My sister and I did attend Sunday school and youth group periodically at a small Baptist church, and sometimes my grandparents took us to a variety of different Christian churches on Sundays.

God was planting seeds in my life along the way via my pastor’s wife, Marge, my Aunt Kerry, and my sister Becky, who came to Christ several years before I did. It wasn’t until church camp when I was 16 that I surrendered my life to Jesus. I rededicated my life to Him at the age of 27.

Today, my mom is a huge influence in my life. Her strong faith and love for Jesus in the midst of being wheelchair-bound due to an accident is such an inspiration to me. She is a faithful prayer warrior, a loving mentor, and an example of a Titus 2 woman. It has been so awesome to see her grow in her faith as an older adult.

What’s your favorite genre to read and write? Who’s your favorite author?

My favorite genre to write is romance. It’s also my favorite to read.Today, I have multiple book projects going at once and spend a lot of my time in the mid-to-late 1800s and early 1900s. I’m also venturing into contemporary romance novels, which is a super-exciting new path God has been prompting me to take. In addition, there’s a romantic suspense novel percolating around in my mind that will someday make it to paper. 

Hmmmm. My favorite author? I can’t name just one, but two of my favorites are Robin Lee Hatcher and Terri Blackstock. There are many others, but to sum it up, my favorite authors are those who are not afraid to allow their faith to shine through in their writing.

What age did you realize you loved books? When did you start writing?

I have loved books from as far back as I can remember. My mom read to me often when I was a child, and in first grade, I won second place in my class for most books read. Books continue to be an important part of my life, and my husband and daughters all join me in a love for books.

At seven-years-old, I was bitten by the writing bug, and began penning stories about a dog’s adventures. For a writing assignment, I wrote my own second grade Bible story commentary of sorts for “kids.” In fourth grade, my fictional stories were published in homemade wallpaper-covered cardboard books. A poem published in a national magazine and a Young Author’s Award sealed the deal, and thus began my dream of becoming an author. In high school, I wrote stories where my friends were the main characters. Their excitement in reading each new chapter held me accountable.

Tell us about this book.

Freedom’s Flight, which is one of nine novellas in Barbour’s The Underground Railroad Brides Collection, takes place in Tennessee in the 1850s.When she discovers the handsome Reverend Matthias Sorenson assisting runaway slaves, can Annalise Van Houten convince him to allow her to help? Or will mistrust prove fatal for all involved?

Freedom’s Flight is the second novella I have had published in a Barbour series. (The first was Love from Afar in The Secret Admirer Romance Collection). Joining with a group of other Christian authors is an experience like none other. I formed wonderful friendships and camaraderie with my fellow authors during this venture.

What did you learn about yourself through writing it? I realized anew how fascinating the Underground Railroad is. So many put their lives on the line to assist slaves in their quest for freedom. I also learned that I’m going to enjoy writing that suspense novel I referenced above, because Freedom’s Flight contains a bit of suspense. J

Do you normally use an outline for the books you write, or do you just start with a few ideas?

I am an edge-of-the seat writer and don’t use an outline for my fiction books. However, I did have what might qualify as a distant relative of an outline for my nonfiction book 77 Ways Your Family Can Make a Difference.

For my fiction books, I actually “watch” my ideas at night as though watching a movie. Yes, usually when I should be sleeping. J  I watch the ideas play out in my mind and hope that I can rewrite them like I saw them. I find myself excited to discover what happens next. As one who is a visual learner, I get my ideas from things and people I see. My daughters, one of whom is also a writer, are accustomed to one of my favorite phrases: “characters – characters everywhere!” Because really, characters and ideas are all around us.

Is there a special place you like to write?

I love to write in the home office my husband designed for me for my birthday several years ago. It has my computer and printer, a nice desk with drawers, a small fireplace, several book shelves, and my elliptical. I can see directly out the large window for when I need to take a break and daydream.

What was something that surprised you in the way this book unfolded?

Whenever I write a book, I’m always excited to see what the characters learn and how they develop throughout the book. To writers, characters are real people. We think about them constantly, wonder how they would react in certain situations, and watch as they grow in their faith and overcome obstacles from the start of the book to the end.

What advice would you give a new author?

God calls us all to do different things for His Kingdom. If He has called you to write, seek His guidance. Never give up, even when you feel like it or when someone has unkindly criticized you. Seek to please and honor Him in whatever you write, whether it be for the Christian or secular market; whether it be fiction, nonfiction, poetry, song lyrics, or a screenplay. Find a mentor and be open to ideas and suggestions from one who’s “been there, done that.” One final note, join forces with other Christian writers. After all, we are all working for the same Boss.

What project are you working on now?

I am currently working on a new contemporary romance novel.

Where can we find your books?

My books are available wherever books are sold – online or in your favorite local bookstore. Online bookstores include Amazon, Christian Book Distributors (CBD), and Barnes and Noble.

Where can we find you online?

My website is www.pennyzeller.com. I blog on a variety of topics including movie reviews, growing in the Lord, funny anecdotes, etc. at www.pennyzeller.wordpress.com. In addition, you can find me on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pennyzellerbooks/ and on Twitter at https://twitter.com/PennyZeller

Thank you for joining me today. There is a lot of interesting information here.

Thank you again, Kristena, for the privilege of being your guest!

Tuesday Talks-Interview with Janice Cole Hopkins

Janice Cole Hopkins

Today we’re going to be talking to the wonderful Janice Cole Hopkins. If you’ve ever read one of her books, I know you’re as excited about this as I am. Hi Janice, and welcome!
Tell us a little about yourself and how you were raised.

I grew up in Wilkes County, North Carolina, and my parents came from even deeper into the Appalachian Mountains. Six of my novels are set in this region. I got my bachelor’s degree in history with a minor in English and a master’s degree in the teaching reading from Appalachian State University. I was certified to teach in 12 different areas.

I learned to love stories before she could read, started reading at age five, wrote my own stories in third grade, and had published poetry by eighth grade. I taught in Wilkes and Stanly County Schools. As a teacher, I mainly wrote for magazines, because they didn’t take as much time, but I always wanted to write a historical novel. After I retired early from teaching and became my mother’s caregiver, I wrote my first novel. I’m still writing and have 16 novels published with more on the way.

What’s your favorite genre to read and write. Who’s your favorite author?

I like to read Christian romance. All my books don’t fit the romance category, but they all have some romance in them in varying degrees. I have many favorite authors –Karen Witemeyer, Tessa Asfar, Francine Rivers, Lynn Austin, etc.

What age did you realize you loved books? When did you start writing?

I already loved stories when I started to school, but really learned to love books when I began my education. I started writing my own stories in third grade.

Tell us about this book.

Deceitful Matters is a contemporary, romantic mystery set near Winston-Salem, North Carolina. In it, Amy Duncan and Seth Conners are just starting to connect in high school when Seth was arrested, Amy’s parents died, and everything changed. They don’t see each other again for ten years, but now someone is trying to make sure they never become too serious about each other again. Who would do such a thing, and will their love growing survive, or will they be torn apart permanently?

What did you learn about yourself through writing it?  That I liked writing mysteries better than I thought.

Do you normally use an outline for the books you write, or do you just start with a few ideas?  

I’m pretty much of a pantster and don’t do a lot of formal planning. However, before I start writing I have lived with the characters for months, sometimes years. I have watched scenes play out in my mind, much like a movie. I know the setting, plot, and characters well and vaguely where it will end up. I write, like I read, to see what happens, and it’s a lot of fun. In the process, I keep asking myself what needs to happen to produce the needed situations and results. So, I do a lot of planning, but most of it’s in my head.

Is there a special place you like to write?

I like to write in my home office on my larger computer where I have most of what I need at hand. However, I also write on my laptop while traveling and promoting.

What was something that surprised you in the way this book unfolded?

I was actually well into the story before I knew who the culprit would be. I had set it up so that it could have been several individuals, although I knew it would be one of three.

What advice would you give a new author?

Read extensively in your genre before you begin, learn all you can, keep learning, and then be persistent.                                                   

What project are you working on now?

I have just published two novellas for Kindle which are realistic, Christian rewrites of fairy tales set in the Middle Ages. My next goal is to combine the two and publish a print version. I’m also working with a producer to put my Christian non-fiction book, On the Road to Jericho, on audiobooks.  I have just finished the rough draft of a novel set in 1962, and it’s in the cooling stage before I begin the first edit. In addition, I’m starting to do my final read-through of a historical western trilogy.

Where can we find your books?

They are on most online sites, bookstores can order them for you, or you can order them directly from me (see the top bar on my website for more information https://janicecolehopkins.blogspot.com/). All my profits go to a scholarship fund for missionary children.

Tuesday Talks-Interview with Mike Garrett

Today we have the privilege of speaking with Mike Garrett. He is an internationally respected book editor and previously published author. Mike first ventured into Christian writing by drafting humorous scripts for church dramas. Innocence Denied is his first Christian novel.
Welcome Mike, Tell us a little about yourself and how you were raised.

I grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, raised by wonderful parents. They were God’s first blessings to me.  I attended Woodlawn High School, the setting of a major Christian movie a few years ago, WOODLAWN.

I still live in the area with my wife Sharon. My two adult children, Leslie and Wade, live nearby, and they have blessed me with five amazing grandchildren, all age three and under. That’s enough to keep me busy for quite a while!

What’s your favorite genre to read and write. Who’s your favorite author?

For secular fiction I enjoy Harlan Coben, who always hooks me on the very first page and holds my interest throughout. For Christian fiction it’s Terri Blackstock.

At what age did you realize you wanted to write? When did you start writing?

When I was just an infant I loved to sit on my grandmother’s lap and listen to stories about her childhood.  I knew early on that I would enjoy telling stories of my own. The earliest that I remember writing my own stories was in grade school when I created my own comic character and crudely drew comics to pass around the room.

Tell us about this book.

Innocence Denied is the story of a fugitive on the run but not like you might expect. An unbelieving woman falsely arrested for murder flees unjust prosecution with the aid of a devout Christian man, a complete stranger. Both of their lives change forever as they follow the path that God has chosen for them.

Have you been published previously?

Innocence Denied is my first attempt at Christian fiction. My secular novel, Keeper, was published almost thirty years ago. It sold out its initial printing and was optioned for a movie.

How was writing a Christian novel different from your secular fiction?

This time there was no profit motive and no desire to be in the spotlight or advance my career. I did it solely to serve God. This one is for Him, not me. I can’t even take credit for it. It’s His story—He just chose me to be its vessel.

I originally wrote it with the intention of self-publication because I knew that it didn’t fit the mold of most traditional publishers. It’s a love story but not a romance; it has elements of suspense but isn’t a suspense novel. It’s difficult to classify.

When I finished the novel, I felt God prod me to investigate commercial publication but found little initial success. My own literary agent didn’t like it, and I couldn’t get any other agents to even look at it. I was about to give up when God led me to CrossLink, a Christian publisher with a more broad approach to publishing, and they saw the merit in my work. CrossLink and I were a perfect match, and the whole thing came together.

Do you normally use an outline for the books you write, or do you just start with a few ideas?

I don’t outline every detail in advance, but I have a strong knowledge of the direction I’m going and where I’ll end up. I think outlining, even a vague, general one, can be quite helpful. After all, you’re not just a writer when you’re sitting at the keyboard; you’re a writer whenever you have the freedom to think. With story developments in mind in advance, even when you’re stuck in traffic or sitting in a waiting room, you can plan what you’ll write at your next opportunity.  Planning ahead will make you more productive at the keyboard.

What was something that surprised you in the way this book unfolded?

 My characters took on a life of their own. I reached a point in the story where they almost took over and  directed me to the end. It’s important not to force yourself to stick to an outline. Don’t let it restrict you; only allow it to guide you.

What advice would you give a new author?               

Ask yourself, “Who are you writing for?” If you’re only writing to please yourself, you may never be published. Keep a diary instead. To become a published author, you should write with your reader in mind. Writing is communication. How can you communicate without readers?

Where can we find your book?

Innocence Denied is available at Barnes and Noble:





and even in Australia at:


Tuesday Talks-Interview with Cortney Manning

Our interview today is with Cortney Manning. She is the fifth contributing author of Five Poisoned Apples. Hi Cortney, tell us a little about yourself and how you were raised.

I am a reader, writer, and teacher. I was raised in a Christian family in Kansas City, Missouri with an older brother and a younger sister. While I have graduated very recently from college with three degrees, I am not done yet! Next year I’ll be heading to Scotland for a Master’s program in Victorian Literature. For now, though, I’m working at a “magical” place in Orlando. I love to travel and have found few things as delicious as afternoon tea (with clotted cream!) in England. In my spare time, I also love to draw.

What’s your favorite genre to read and write. Who’s your favorite author?

When it comes to reading, I absolutely love fantasy, historical fiction, and the classics. The authors of my favorite books are Anne Elisabeth Stengl, Julie Klassen, and Charlotte Bronte.

On the other hand, when I write, I tend to stick to the fantasy genre, though I have experimented a little with steampunk, too.

What age did you realize you loved books? When did you start writing?

For me, reading and writing go hand and hand, and I have loved reading for a long time. Since I was in third grade and I read the American Girl books with my mom, I have been a voracious reader, and each book I read would spark ideas in my head for other stories. It wasn’t until my first year of college, though, that I really started to write out any of my ideas. I contributed several pieces of flash fiction to my college’s yearly anthology of writing, and I’ve entered earlier Rooglewood fairy tale contests, so I was very excited when The Fairest One was selected to be part of the Five Poisoned Apples anthology.

Tell us about this book.

Five Poisoned Apples is an anthology five novellas retelling the classic tale of Snow White.

My novella, The Fairest One, is the tale of Livna, a timid but empathetic princess struggling to balance her need for approval and her desire to help her people. The novella has a bit of romance and a dash of adventure and is set in an ancient Middle Eastern fantasy world with empires, tribes, and magical Dwarven. Here’s a teaser of the story:

Her people look for the prophesied Fairest One – but can Livna find the courage to step out of the shadows and save her nation?

What did you learn about yourself through writing it?

As I wrote The Fairest One, I channeled some of my own feelings.Livna’s fear of failure and letting down those she cares for mirrors my own fears. However, as she learns, fears do not have to hold us back. If we dare to grow, then we can push past those fears and trust God to use our trials and successes to fit his purpose.

Do you normally use an outline for the books you write, or do you just start with a few ideas?

Yes, I typically do think out think out the whole story and outline it first. One of my greatest fears as a writer is to pour too much time and effort into the idea of a story only to discover it will not work or will require a dramatic rehauling. That’s why I prefer to put in the extra effort in advance and then simply polish the story and fill in its gaps. Still, I try to remain open to fresh ideas as I go along rather than sticking strictly to my outline.

Is there a special place you like to write?

I prefer to sit in a quiet spot by myself, often with music playing.

What was something that surprised you in the way this book unfolded?

Buried in the core of my story is the symbolism of a phoenix representing Livna rising above her fear. However, this symbolism was not in my initial draft. In fact, Livna herself was not a particularly vivid or active character. However, during my editing, this symbolism suddenly worked itself in, and, after that, Livna truly came alive for me as a character. I think it was this symbolism which unexpectedly helped me add more depth to the story and highlight Livna’s struggles and successes.

What advice would you give a new author?               

My advice would be to never give up. If writing is something you love, then don’t stop. Whether your story reaches three people or thousands, it’s still valuable. Every story we tell is important and holds more power than we know. Every story has an impact on those who read it.

Even if you write a story that no one else reads, it’s still important to you and your growth as a writer and a person. I know the process of writing and editing The Fairest One has helped me grow as a writer, but so have the stories I wrote which will never be published.

So never give up on writing, not even at times when it seems frustrating and hard. Because it is truly worth it to share your stories with your friends or with the world.

What project are you working on now?

Currently, I am working on edits for another Snow White retelling called Yellow Bright. Like The Fairest One, Yellow Bright is also an adventure-packed fantasy, but it is set in a completely different world and focused on Snow White’s stepmother instead as she encounters a realm of intrigue and magic guarded by a dangerous and beautiful dwarf king.

Where can we find your books?




Tuseday talks-Interview with Rachael Wallen

Today we have the wonderful privilege of speaking with and learning about Rachael Wallen. Hi Rachael, welcome! Tell us a little about yourself and how you were raised.

Growing up two things were constant – a house full of books, and parents who encouraged me to question, learn, and seek to bring God glory in everything I did. Like several of the other authors in this collection, I was also homeschooled. Hailing from a small island nation, I’ve always loved travelling and learning other peoples’ stories.

That sounds like an amazing childhood to me. What’s your favorite genre to read and write. Who’s your favorite author?

 Most definitely Sci-Fi/ Fantasy, although I’m easily sold on historical fiction as well. My long-standing top three authors are Lois McMaster Bujold, Megan Whalen Turner and Elizabeth Wein. As well as writing amazing books that I continue to go back to time and again, they repeatedly provide me with a masterclass in immersive world-building, distinctive characterization and the power of a well-constructed narrative. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting with Ms Whalen Turner and interacting with Ms McMaster Bujold and Ms Wein through their fan portals, and they are amazing people as well as incredible authors.

What age did you realize you loved books? When did you start writing?

My memories of reading to myself, and falling asleep reading, are of about the same vintage of learning to colour, and to ride a tricycle, just something that I’ve always done. I was fortunate to have parents and grandparents who read to me from a very young age, and who encouraged me to enjoy story and rhyme.

Writing followed soon after. At least from the surviving artifacts I’d guess I was four.

Tell us about this book.

Drawing on the gothic fairytale traditions of Snow White and The Red Shoes, Snowbird and the Red Slippers takes place in a near-contemporary Manhattan, where several talented ballerinas compete amid the already challenging conditions of Nutcracker Season. Jeong Hayan has the most to prove – she defected from North Korea as a child, her future forever changed by the scholarship she received.  Moira Speare might have the most to lose – her career and even her soul.

Hayan will need all her quiet courage, the mother’s love and protection sewn into her clothing, and the allies she meets to survive her international debut.

What did you learn about yourself through writing it?

I challenged myself to write a modern setting, not something I’m comfortable with! This story I also made a conscious effort NOT to leave the writing to the last minute, something I tend to do to try and foil my perfectionist tendencies through procrastination. It was still written around full-time shift work, final wedding preparation, and showing my soon-to-be in-laws around my home country. But I learned that I can work without the last minute panic as motivation.

Congratulations on your wedding!
Do you normally use an outline for the books you write, or do you just start with a few ideas?

I need to have a clear image of the first scene worked out in detail, almost visualized like the pre-title scene of a movie, an idea of the major points, and a sense of what would be a good resolution. Then usually multiple pages of research into the world until it’s visible, and a brief list of plot points. Inevitably, a lot of prewriting pondering, and a lot of stopping and pacing while writing.

LoL… That all sounds familiar!
Is there a special place you like to write?

If it’s quiet, with a big enough surface to accumulate laptop, elbows, mugs, half a bar of chocolate, and a blotter pad for scribbling maps, character names, things that might be important later, AND I can walk away and know it will be undisturbed, then I will be quite content.

What was something that surprised you in the way this book unfolded?

I’d always hoped one of the Rooglewood Press Collections would be Snow White, and from the start I knew I was going to write it about the world of ballet. As a child I dreamed of being a dancer, and I thought a lot more would take place onstage, a wish fulfilment tale really, but it was in getting to know these characters, of building a world solely theirs that the story came to life.

By taking myself out of the narrative – I’m but a guest to their culture and experiences – I think it is a lot richer.  I have many people to thank for sharing their lives and cultures with me, who gladly gave me advice, language corrections and research prompts, and I hope there are readers who catch glimpses of themselves in this story.  

What advice would you give a new author?               

You learn from every piece you write, and the more varied your writing, the better!  I was fortunate to take a course in commercial writing – basically how to write short fiction for magazines, articles for the same, screenplays and simple scripts – and later to need to write research proposals and articles for submission to a scientific journal. Word choice, the voice you pick, characters, settings and emphasis placement, with every piece of written communication you’ll hone or figure out new skills.

Critiquing your work, and getting feedback helps with that learning process. Going back and looking at old work. Retelling stories that have been done before. Even if those efforts never get further than your hard-drive, you’ll learn, and the next time it will be better.

What project are you working on now?

I’m editing a Young Adult/New Adult fantasy to hopefully be querying by Easter. The Tithe is a low magic fantasy where skilled craftspeople keep the peace between nations, but a stolen child, two breaks with tradition, and history that can’t be repeated if it remains a secret might be enough to upset the delicate balance.

Where can we find your books?

Five Poisoned Apples is currently available in print and ebook on Amazon

You can interact with me via: blogspot https://rachaelwallen.blogspot.com/ , twitter https://twitter.com/Ewokshoutsfurst  and tumblr https://rachaelwallen.tumblr.com/

I’m currently also running a competition through my social media for readers of Five Poisoned Apples and specifically Snowbird and the Red Slippers.